Cinema

Entries - Entry Category: Cinema

She Couldn’t Say No

aka: Beautiful But Dangerous [Movie]
She Couldn’t Say No (1954), directed by Lloyd Bacon, is a small-town romantic comedy made by RKO Pictures in California and set in fictitious Progress, Arkansas. The story of why this little-regarded film was made and how it came to feature two major stars, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons, is more dramatic than anything in the movie. In the early 1950s, tycoon Howard Hughes (not yet a recluse) controlled RKO and was obsessed with Simmons, a young British film star. He bought her contract, brought her to Hollywood, and made sexual demands, despite her marriage to another star, Stewart Granger. When Simmons rebuffed him, Hughes retaliated by assigning her to a series of films so poor he expected they would destroy …

Shelter

Shelter (1998) is a modestly budgeted action thriller made in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by director Scott Paulin. The film features no significant Arkansas landmarks. The movie centers upon hero Martin Roberts (John Allen Nelson), an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) whose corrupt superior Landis (Charles Durning) tries to have him killed. Martin flees and is protected by Dimitri (Peter Onorati), head of the Arkansas-based “Greek Mafia” that dominates illegal gunrunning throughout the American South from its headquarters in an Arkansas mansion. Landis joins forces with a rival gangster, Cantrell (Kurtwood Smith), to wipe out Dimitri’s gang. However, Martin gets into more trouble when he falls in love with Helena (Brenda Bakke and stand-in Monica …

Sling Blade

Filmed entirely in Benton (Saline County) by Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1996 and earned Thornton—who wrote, directed, and starred in the movie—an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Actor. Sling Blade opens on the day that Karl Childers (Thornton), a developmentally challenged man, is released from an asylum for the criminally insane, twenty-five years after murdering his mother and her lover with a sling blade—a scythe-like tool that Karl prefers to call a kaiser blade. Karl demonstrates a talent for fixing small engines and is able to find work as a repairman in his hometown of Millsburg. One day at a …

So Sad about Gloria

aka: Visions of Doom
aka: Visions of Evil
So Sad about Gloria is a ninety-minute horror/thriller movie that was filmed in central Arkansas and released in October 1975. Rated “PG” for Parental Guidance, it was directed by Arkansan Harry Thomason for Centronics International, a production company based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). So Sad about Gloria was also re-released under the titles Visions of Doom and Visions of Evil. The plot, credited to Marshall Riggan, centers around a young woman who moves back to the family home after being released from a mental hospital. She soon experiences frightening visions concerning a series of ax murders. There is an element of romance after she meets young writer Chris Kenner, who is lounging in a tree. His rationale: “I sit …

Soldier’s Story, A

A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 dramatic movie filmed entirely in Arkansas at four locations: Clarendon (Monroe County), Fort Chaffee, Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and the Lamar Porter Athletic Field in Little Rock (Pulaski County). After being turned down by several studios, it was produced on an extremely low budget and went on to win numerous awards, earning more than four times what it cost to produce. At a critical point in the filming when there was very little money to pay extras, Governor Bill Clinton helped the production by approving use of Arkansas Army National Guard personnel in full military dress for an essential scene. The movie starred a number of distinguished actors including Denzel Washington, Howard E. Rollins …

Staggs, Monica

Monica Staggs is an actress best known for her work as a stunt double in numerous films and television shows. Monica Ann Staggs was born on February 24, 1970, in Boulder, Colorado, to Nova Staggs and Thomas Staggs. She has one sister. Staggs spent most of her youth in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and graduated from Sylvan Hills High School in 1988. She then did work in the drama and English departments at both the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as well as attending the University of Central Arkansas in Conway (Faulkner County) for a time. Without completing a degree, in 1996, she took a job as a stand-in …

Steenburgen, Mary Nell

Mary Nell Steenburgen is one of Arkansas’s most celebrated actors. Noted for roles in cinema, television, and stage, she has portrayed a wide range of characters, from the president’s mother, Hannah Nixon, in Nixon (1995) to schoolteacher Clara Clayton in Back to the Future III (1990) and seductress Betty Carver in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). She has won many awards, including an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynda Dummar in Melvin and Howard (1980). Mary Steenburgen was born on February 8, 1953, in Newport (Jackson County) to Maurice Steenburgen, a freight train conductor, and Nellie Mae Wall Steenburgen, a school secretary. Her family—including a younger sister, Nancy Lynn—moved to North Little Rock (Pulaski County) when she was three …

Stickney, Phyllis Yvonne

Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is an actress, comedian, poet, playwright, producer, and motivational speaker best known for her television and film roles in the late 1980s and 1990s. Noted in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Essence magazine as one of 200 African-American women who have changed the world, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998. Phyllis Stickney was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Belle and Felix Stickney Jr. She has publicly been vague about her age, and no available sources offer the year of her birth. Her father was an executive with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and the family moved frequently. She has two siblings, one of whom, Timothy, is also an …

Summer of My German Soldier

Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier is a novel and a television movie set in eastern Arkansas during World War II. Both portray the Arkansas location, era, and characters realistically. Since the novel’s publication in 1973, it has remained a young-adult best-seller and is considered a classic of young-adult literature. In 1973, it was an American Library Association Notable Book, a National Book Award finalist, and one of The New York Times’s Outstanding Books of the Year; it also won the Golden Kite award. In 1979, the movie earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Writing. Esther Rolle won the Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for her portrayal of Ruth. Rolle praised Greene for her skillful, true-to-life characterization of …

Takei, George Hosato

George Hosato Takei gained international fame as Lieutenant Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and six movies. When he was a boy, he and his family were held in the War Relocation Authority Camp in Rohwer (Desha County). George Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. His father, Takekuma Norman Takei, immigrated to the United States from Japan at age thirteen, graduated from Hills Business College in San Francisco, and owned a cleaning shop in the Wilshire corridor of Los Angeles. His mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura Takei, was a native U.S. citizen who was educated in Japan. In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, …

Terror at Black Falls

Produced, written, directed, and edited by Robert C. Sarafian, Terror at Black Falls was filmed in Arkansas in Scotland (Van Buren County) in 1959 and released in 1962. The low-budget, black-and-white Western was barely of feature length. A DVD runs sixty-eight minutes, but the movie was probably originally longer. Various sources say the film was seventy, seventy-two, or seventy-six minutes. It was the first film directed by Sarafian and may have been intended as his calling card film in Hollywood, a sample to show studios his ability. The film’s loquacious narrator says that the movie tells “a true story” set “when Arkansas was part of the wild American frontier.” However, it was not based on a true story. Like another …

Thomason, Harry Z.

Harry Z. Thomason is a film and television producer best known for the television series Designing Women and for his friendship with Bill Clinton. Thomason made the casting of people of Southern heritage more popular, replacing the ignorant hillbilly type with a more wry, witty, sophisticated Southerner. Thomason was born in 1940 in Hampton (Calhoun County). After moving to Little Rock (Pulaski County), he became a high-school speech teacher and football coach. Beginning with Encounter with the Unknown (1973), he wrote, produced, and/or directed the movies The Great Lester Boggs (1974), So Sad about Gloria (1975), The Day It Came to Earth (1979), and Revenge of Bigfoot (1979). He then moved to television, where he produced the television movies A Shining Season …

Thornton, Billy Bob

Billy Bob Thornton is an actor, director, screenwriter, and musician who began his film career in the late 1980s and has since starred in a number of popular and critically acclaimed films. He received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sling Blade (1996). Billy Bob Thornton was born on August 4, 1955, in Hot Springs (Garland County), the oldest son of high school basketball coach Billy Ray Thornton and Virginia Faulkner, a psychic. At seven months of age, he set the Clark County record for heaviest infant, at thirty pounds. He has two younger brothers, Jimmy Don and John David. Residing with over a dozen relatives in a shack with no electricity or plumbing, the Thorntons subsisted on …

Town That Dreaded Sundown, The

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a 1976 horror film by producer/director Charles B. Pierce. Based very loosely on true incidents that took place just after World War II around Texarkana (Miller County), it was one of the first movies in the “slasher” genre. The film starred 1971 Academy Award winner Ben Johnson along with television stars Andrew Prine and Dawn Wells. The movie, considered a cult classic, made a huge profit over production costs. It was remade in 2014. To form the basis of his fifth film, Pierce chose what were called the “Texarkana Moonlight Murders,” which took place throughout 1946 primarily in Texarkana, Texas, though he represents them as occurring on the Arkansas side of the city. A …

True Grit

“Here is what happened.” With those simple words, Mattie Ross of Dardanelle (Yell County) begins her reminiscence of the time she avenged her father’s murder with the help of a one-eyed deputy marshal and a dandy Texas Ranger. Set in western Arkansas and the Indian Territory of the 1870s, the novel True Grit, written by Arkansan Charles Portis, mixes this unlikely trio of personalities in a bestselling Western adventure. Published in 1968, True Grit was adapted into a movie and released the following year. The movie garnered veteran actor John Wayne the first and only Oscar of his career for his portrayal of Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn. In 2010, a second film adaptation of the novel, written and directed by …

Wakely, James Clarence (Jimmy)

Jimmy Wakely, an American country and western singer and actor from the 1930s through the 1950s, made several recordings and appeared in B-western movies with most major studios as a “singing cowboy.” Wakely was one of the last singing cowboys after World War II and also appeared on radio and television; he even had his own series of comic books. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1680 Vine Street. Jimmy Wakely was born James Clarence Wakeley on February 16, 1914, in Mineola (Howard County) to Major Anderson Wakeley, a farmer, and Caroline (or Carolin) “Cali” Burgess Wakeley. As a teenager, he changed “James” to “Jimmy” and dropped the second “e” in his last name, making …

War Room, The

The War Room is a 1993 documentary in which filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker produced an inside look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president of the United States. The filmmakers were granted access to the Clinton campaign center, dubbed by Hillary Clinton as the “war room.” It was filmed mostly in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and featured a number of well-known Little Rock locations. Pennebaker, a respected filmmaker, was especially known for 1967’s Don’t Look Back about Bob Dylan and 1968’s Monterey Pop about the legendary music festival. The War Room made stars of campaign strategists James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, won a number of prizes …

White Lightning

Released in 1973, White Lightning is a film written by William Norton and directed by Joseph Sargent starring Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. It is set in fictional Bogan County, Arkansas, though it was shot in several locations throughout the central part of the state and includes many recognizable landmarks, particularly in Benton (Saline County). Taking its name from a colloquial term for moonshine whiskey, the film primarily deals with central character Gator McKlusky (Reynolds) and his attempt to infiltrate an illegal bootlegging operation. Upon hearing of his brother’s murder, McKlusky, who at the outset of the film is in prison for bootlegging, agrees to work as a “stool pigeon”—or cooperative informant—for the federal government in an attempt to bring …

White River Kid, The

Although The White River Kid is optimistically described by its distributors as “an outrageous comedy with a heart” and “a zany adventure with a plethora of oddball characters on the road in the Bible Belt,” actual reviews of this more or less universally panned film are less kind. Indeed, one reviewer described it as “a messy comedy infested with bad gags.” The White River Kid (video title White River) relies on negative stereotypes of Arkansans, portraying them as moronic rednecks or merely simple folk for much of its material. Based on the John Fergus Ryan novel The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer (1991), it was filmed on location in and around Hot Springs (Garland County) and other Arkansas locations during …

Wishbone Cutter

aka: The Shadow of Chikara
aka: The Curse of Demon Mountain
A low-budget western/horror movie made in Yellville (Marion County) and in the Buffalo River country of Marion County, Wishbone Cutter (1977) was written, produced, and directed by Earl E. Smith, previously screenwriter on two Arkansas horror films directed by Charles B. Pierce: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). Wishbone Cutter, the only film Smith ever directed, was also known as The Curse of Demon Mountain and The Shadow of Chikara. The Internet Movie Database lists five additional English titles for the film’s theatrical, television, and video releases. The Arkansas setting is made clear by an opening title informing audiences that Arkansas is the only state to produce diamonds. Captain Wishbone Cutter (Joe Don …

Woman They Almost Lynched

An interesting film lurking behind an exploitative title, Republic Pictures’ 1953 western Woman They Almost Lynched is set in early 1865 in “Border City,” a fictitious Ozarks town bisected by the Arkansas-Missouri border. The town has been militantly neutral throughout the Civil War, under a “petticoat government” led by tyrannical mayor Delilah Courtney (Nina Varela). Made in California, the movie is a typical B-western (though better than most) with no real Arkansas atmosphere except one old man with a mandolin. The town and the rural scenery look like routine Hollywood western locales. None of the hillbilly stereotypes found in other Hollywood films set in Arkansas are present, and no one attempts a local accent. Border City is said to attract …